April 20, 2024 

Jackson State’s Angel Jackson realizes her dream in WNBA Draft

'I am living proof that dreams can come true'

The swirl of activity from Angel Jackson‘s glitching and incessantly pinging phone, which eventually overheated from a blizzard of notifications, confirmed her dream had come true.

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On Monday, the two-time reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces selected Jackson with the 36th and final pick in the WNBA Draft. She’s the second Jackson State player to be drafted in the last three years, following Ameshya Williams-Holliday, whom the Indiana Fever selected in the third round in 2022.

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Jackson is also the seventh women’s basketball player from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) ever to be drafted into the WNBA. This is a personal achievement and a sign of these institutions’ growing recognition and talent. It’s an optimistic sign for the future of HBCUs in women’s basketball and should inspire the next generation of players.

Besides Jackson and Williams-Holliday, the other HBCU draftees in WNBA history are:

Graves and Gardner were second-round selections, while the other three were taken in the fourth round. (The draft was shortened to three rounds after 2002.)

Jackson’s selection came as a surprise to her, even though her agent had hinted at the possibility. As her name scrolled across the bottom of the television screen during the third round, she couldn’t help but do a double take.

“I called my mom, and we cried together,” Jackson told The Next on Wednesday. “My emotions were a whirlwind. The flood of notifications and messages was overwhelming, definitely over 100. The outpouring of support from my family, old teammates and friends was heartwarming. I am deeply grateful for everyone who has been a part of my journey.”

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Jackson was so nervous that she spent most of the day cleaning her apartment. She followed the draft but didn’t pay close attention to what was happening until she saw her name. A few minutes after speaking with her mom, Jackson talked to Aces head coach Becky Hammon and general manager Natalie Williams. They both expressed excitement at selecting her and having her in camp.

Jackson is thrilled to get to training camp and start learning from the likes of two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. The Aces are the current pinnacle of WNBA excellence, which makes this an outstanding opportunity for Jackson. Jackson is one of four players the Aces drafted, along with Syracuse guard Dyaisha Fair at No. 16, Iowa guard Kate Martin at No. 18 and Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley at No. 24.

“It’s amazing getting drafted to a team like the Aces,” Jackson said. “They are among the best of the best. I feel I am right where I need to be. I am excited for the future and [to] get on the court with my new teammates.”

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A two-time Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Defensive Player of the Year, the Richmond, California, native averaged 9.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in her two seasons at Jackson State. After playing her first three seasons at USC, the 6’6 center transferred to JSU. She was a tower of power for Jackson State, blocking 171 shots in 64 games and helping the Tigers make the NCAA Tournament this past season and the WNIT in 2023.

Jackson State center Angel Jackson shoots an open jump shot from near the top of the key.
Jackson State center Angel Jackson (15) shoots during a first-round NCAA Tournament game against UConn at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., on March 23, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Since she started playing basketball in fourth grade, Jackson aspired to compete in the WNBA. She got into basketball by watching her older brothers, who never let her play with them. Undaunted, Jackson, fueled by dedication and sweat, blossomed into a McDonald’s All-American while playing at Salesian High School. She was also selected to participate in the Jordan Brand Classic.

Transferring to Jackson State proved to be a blessing for Jackson because veteran head coach Tomekia Reed supported, encouraged and nurtured her talent. The consistent check-ins and calls proved to be valuable for Jackson. 

“She was tremendous and always believed in me since Day 1,” Jackson said of Reed. “I didn’t know what to expect when I transferred here. She has been there for me, telling me I can do this. She always showed love and was here for me. We had so many talks together, which were great because they made me a better person, player and young lady. It’s bittersweet to leave here, but you never know what will happen. If you keep the faith and believe in God, you can accomplish anything.”

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Competing with passion, force and energy, Jackson played a more significant role this past season because of a season-ending injury to one of Jackson State’s post players. Jackson stepped up, not only with increased offensive production but also by becoming a leader. She credited her teammates and the coaching staff for helping prepare her to be drafted. 

Under Reed, Jackson State has been one of the nation’s top women’s basketball programs. In addition to producing two WNBA Draft picks in three years, Reed has guided Jackson State to five straight SWAC regular-season titles and four SWAC Tournament titles. She has never had a losing record, leading the Tigers to three straight seasons of 20 or more wins. 

Following Jackson State’s loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Connecticut, Reed told reporters, “We have a community that’s not built on wins and losses but on family and love.” This accomplishment is why many in the HBCU community are proud of Jackson State. And there’s immense pride in Jackson being drafted because they feel connected to her journey.

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Jackson’s story is a testament to the opportunities and support that HBCUs provide. She earned her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies and is working toward her master’s degree in business. Her emotional journey during the draft, from surprise to tears of joy, reflects the transformative impact that HBCUs can have on a player’s life and career.

“I would tell anybody never to doubt yourself,” Jackson said. “Don’t let people tell you you won’t have the same opportunities if you transfer to an HBCU. They are the place to be. They are growing athletically and academically. If you want to be with your people, coming to an HBCU is fine. …

“I am living proof that dreams can come true. It feels amazing. Ameshya set the standard getting drafted, and now I am ready to follow in her footsteps and put some more attention on Jackson State and HBCUs.”

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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